The Booker Prize-winning author of Possession offers a collection of short fiction gathered from a long career, taking readers from ancient myth to a British candy factory, from a Chinese restaurant to a Mediterranean swimming pool, from a Turkish bazaar to a fairy-tale palace and elsewhere.
A.S. Byatt’s fiction...has been increasingly ornate, humorless, freighted with fantasy and myth, and encrusted with heavy literary reference. All my least favorite things in fiction ... Byatt’s fiction has become less convincing than her arguments. She’s less fierce than Carter, who once began a story, 'My father lost me to the Beast at cards.' She’s less playful than the minimalist Barthelme, and less liquidly philosophical than Iris Murdoch. She seems, most of the time, to be writing with a quill under a prism-fringed chandelier ... Other stories fly a bit closer to earth, though rarely do you sense you’re reading about beings you might care about, or that anything at all is at stake. They’re top-heavy, forced in a hothouse. There are many stories within stories. If such stories were good, they wouldn’t be inside a different one. While reading, I frequently glanced at my wife across the room and made that brilliant new international hand signal that means 'help me.' A human theme does emerge from this book. Byatt is a perceptive writer about aging, about what it’s like to feel like you’re disappearing, like Homer Simpson into that hedge, from the brighter world ... The reason to buy this book—well, to borrow it—is for the title story ... When the explosion comes, it is worth the wait. You no longer sense you’re reading treacle written in high diction, and that the only smoke is like that from the nostrils of a cartoon bull.
... one of England's distinctive voices ... the short story format suits her beautifully ... She favors adjective-spangled cascades of images, excavates the dictionary for rare specimens, and sends iambs and anapests cavorting across the paragraphs. A little of this can go a long way (though, as the novels demonstrate, sometimes a lot can go even further). These stories, selected from periodicals and previous collections, present compact versions of her favored themes, preoccupations, strengths, and occasionally weaknesses, and they’re short enough that her densely decorative prose rarely grows wearisome ... Short works representative of Byatt’s beautifully evocative prose.
... a scintillating look at three decades of the author’s work. Her stories transcend genre and stylistic limits, traversing through landscapes fantastical and real, as they bewitch, unnerve, and comfort the reader ... Each story showcases Byatt’s exquisite prose and her wide-ranging mastery of the short story form. For the uninitiated, this makes for a perfect entry point.